Tuesday’s closing general session of the Direct Selling Association Annual Meeting featured an insightful roundtable discussion with four of the industry’s women executives.
While women have always represented the overwhelming majority of direct sellers, their presence in board rooms and executive suites has more closely resembled the makeup of wider corporate America. In 1972, only 4 percent of U.S. businesses were run by women. By 1991, that number had grown to 38 percent. Today, women run 8.3 million businesses nationwide.
To hear firsthand their perspective on challenges and opportunities facing the industry—and its women leaders—Ruth Todd, Nu Skin Vice President of Public Affairs, sat down with Lori Bush, President and CEO of Rodan + Fields; Traci Lynn Burton, Founder and CEO of Traci Lynn Fashion Jewelry; Kay Napier, CEO of Arbonne; and Connie Tang, President and CEO of Princess House.
From their vantage point, the women have witnessed many changes for their fellow women in the industry. A current trend, said Napier, is the increasing number of professional women, and men, entering direct selling.
“It’s become more of a legitimate choice to choose this profession and lifestyle, and not just as a side job, a hobby or a social outlet,” Tang agreed. “People see it more in terms of truly providing something meaningful for women and their families.”
The panel also shared some common misperceptions they encounter as women leaders, including the notion that they can’t handle constructive criticism. “By virtue of what position we’re in, people infer we don’t want feedback or to know when we’re wrong,” said Napier. “I’ve worked to surround myself with people who aren’t afraid to tell me when I’m off track.”
One point from Tang struck a chord with her fellow panelists, who enthusiastically agreed. “I think there’s a myth that we’ve figured out how to balance life and work. There is no such thing!” said Tang. “Balance is interpretive and unique to each individual. Work-life balance implies there are equal parts, and that’s a myth.”
When the conversation turned to connecting with salespeople in the field, Burton encouraged leaders to make sure their interactions involve more than just products and business.
“What I would suggest is that you give them a value add—something that has nothing to do with the product. If you want to develop that relationship, you have to have the value add of personal development,” Burton said.
Bush shared a piece of life wisdom she often tells her own salespeople at Rodan + Fields: “Embrace the journey. You might not find that success makes you happy; there’s a higher possibility that happiness will make you successful.”